Carbohydrates are often highlighted in the media leading to many viewpoints and confusion, but carbs can be part of a healthy diet. Fruits and fruit juices are made up of simple carbs called fructose and glucose. Unlike the carbs found in sodas, energy drinks and sports drinks, fructose and glucose in fruits and 100 percent fruit juices are naturally occurring sugars and can be part of a balanced eating pattern.
Naturally Occurring Sugars vs. Added Sugars
Naturally occurring sugars are carbs present in minimally processed food. Whole fruit, 100 percent fruit juice, milk and yogurt contain naturally occurring sugars. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, added sugars are those that are added during processing, preparation or at the table. High-fructose corn syrup in soda and sugar in baked goods are added sugars. Although naturally occurring and added sugars follow the same digestive pathways in your body, foods containing naturally occurring sugars provide more nutrition than foods made with added sugars. Whole fruit can provide other nutrients like fiber, antioxidants, vitamins including vitamin C and folate and minerals like potassium and magnesium. One-hundred percent fruit juice provides these nutrients without the fiber. Milk and yogurt provide protein, calcium, vitamin D and some B vitamins. Processed foods that contain added sugars are less likely to contain these beneficial nutrients.
Juice and Fiber
Fiber is an indigestible carb responsible for maintaining blood glucose control, healthy cholesterol levels and gastrointestinal health. During the juicing process, fiber is removed from the fruit resulting in juice. Since juice does not contain fiber, some nutritional benefits are lost; however, juice can still contain a wide array of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. As part the U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPlate eating plan, women need 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit per day. One cup or 8 ounces of 100 percent juice counts as 1 cup toward that recommendation.
You may have heard that juice ranks high on the glycemic index. The glycemic index ranks foods and beverages on a scale from zero to 100 based on their relationship to blood sugar levels. Lower rankings affect blood sugar values less, while higher rankings lead to higher blood sugar values. A low glycemic index level is 55 and below, medium is 56 to 69 and high is 70 and above. Depending on the variety, an 8-ounce serving of juice scores in the low and medium ranges, about 41 to 57 on the index. The glycemic index is not a realistic reflection of a typical eating pattern. The scores are based on eating these foods alone, while the majority of people eat several food items at meals, not just pasta or juice. Most people consume some fat and protein with carbs, which also promotes more balanced blood glucose levels.
Choose juices that contain 100 percent fruit juice to decrease your intake of added sugars and other additives. Pick juices in a variety of colors. Alternate red-, orange-, yellow-, green-, blue-, purple- and white-colored juices to maximize your intake of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Incorporating juices from all of these colors provides a range of nutrients and promotes wellness. Since the serving size for juice is 8 ounces, buy smaller containers of juice to ensure that you can maximize your variety of nutrients.
Andrea Hartnett is a registered dietitian nutritionist. She earned a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and later completed her dietetic internship at Loyola University Chicago. Since 2007, Hartnett has served as a registered dietitian nutritionist at hospitals in Chicago and Milwaukee.